Paddle park would feature kayak condos — rental storage for kayaks and gear — developed by Gardiner resident Buddy Doyle

BY SUSAN MCMILLAN

Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — A proposal for a park that caters to kayakers at the Eastside Boat Landing was warmly received by City Council on Thursday.

The paddle park would feature kayak condos, containers created by Gardiner resident Buddy Doyle that people can rent to store their kayaks and related gear year-round instead of taking it to and from the river each time.

Doyle said the park, which would also include picnic tables and a shelter, can be created at no cost to the city and should be self-sustaining, with rental income from the kayak condos paying for their upkeep.

An an informational City Council meeting on Thursday, councilors were enthusiastic about the idea, and it will be on their agenda for authorization next week.

Augusta used $3,600 in economic development seed money to buy six kayak condos that were installed at the boat landing in 2011, but they had a design flaw: the endcaps could be pulled off by a determined thief or vandal. Despite that, Community Services Director Leif Dahlin said there have been only minor problems, including one busted endcap.

Now the kayak condos have been redesigned to be more secure, and Doyle said he believes companies will be able to sponsor them in pairs. A company would have free use of one of the units for a few years, and the other would be available for the city to rent out.

Doyle said businesses may also be willing to donate items such as a firepit or outdoor speakers to make the space suitable for events.

“I see this as a real social gathering place, whether you’re a kayaker or not,” he said.

Ward 1 Councilor Michael Byron said he liked Doyle’s idea of a kayak race from Augusta to Gardiner, a sort of revival of the Whatever Race that took place annually from the 1970s to the 1990s.

“I’m so happy and excited for your concept to bring the focus back to where it should be, in addition to the banks of the river, on the river itself,” Byron said.

At-large Councilor Jeff Bilodeau compared the Paddle Park to the dog park and petanque courts at Mill Park — dedicated spaces envisioned and funded by community groups with the city’s endorsement.

Ward 2 Councilor Darek Grant said the paddle park fits the wishes that residents expressed to the East Side Planning Committee.

“There’s an interest in going toward the river, having more to do along the riverfront and building upon that,” Grant said. “This is probably an ideal scenario for that area and for the city and the people who live here.”

Also on Thursday, councilors discussed the Capital Riverfront Improvement District, a group that the city and the state created to help preserve and improve Augusta’s historic riverfront.

Council will seek to terminate the city’s memorandum of understanding with the district, which is dormant in the absence of funding.

Ward 4 Councilor Mark O’Brien flagged the memorandum of understanding because some of its provisions have been supplanted by later decisions, such as the creation of the Mill Park Committee. The agreement, for example, give the district control of access to Mill Park and requires Augusta to transfer to the district any donations to the park.

The state has not funded the improvement district since fiscal year 2011, and the city has redirected its share to help hire a downtown manager.

“It was one hand clapping, you couldn’t really expect an effective organization without equal partnership and equal participation,” City Manager Bill Bridgeo said. “I am loathe to ring the death knell of this organization because it has potential as long as it’s on the books, but Councilor O’Brien is absolutely correct that this agreement has been overtaken by events and hasn’t really been actively enforced or seven or eight years. I had forgotten about it, candidly.”

The agreement allows for termination by one party, but first Augusta officials must meet with the state officials on the district’s governing board. City Council would have to vote on termination at a subsequent meeting.

Also on Thursday, councilors expressed support for allowing social services as a permitted use on Mount Vernon Avenue, allowing the Augusta Food Bank to relocate there. That matter will be sent to the Planning Board.

A proposal to make the block of Green Street between State and Water streets two-way was tabled.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]